Fairlie joined the Scottish National Party (SNP) in 1955, and was elected to its National Executive in the early 1970s. At the February and October 1974, and 1979 general elections, he stood unsuccessfully for the party in Dundee West. At the time he was described as a student teacher and had previously been vice-chair of the Perth and East Perthshire SNP Association. In 1979, he became Vice Chairman for Policy, and from 1981 to 1984, he was Deputy Leader and Senior Vice Chairman of the party. He stood unsuccessfully in Dunfermline West at the 1983 general election and Perth and Kinross in 1987, and also wrote a column in the Scots Independent newspaper.
In 1989 Fairlie had been selected to stand again in Perth and Kinross, but he resigned from the SNP in 1990, objecting to its "Independence in Europe" slogan and support for the European Community. In the 2000s, he joined the Free Scotland Party, acting as its Media Liaison Officer. He stood unsuccessfully for the party in Perth at the 2007 Scottish Parliament election.
- Candidates and Constituency Assessments: Perth Archived 2011-06-06 at the Wayback Machine
- The Times Guide to the House of Commons October 1974. London: Times Books. 1974. pp. 112–113. ISBN 0 7230 0124 3.
- Roger Levy, Third party decline in the UK: The SNP and SDP in comparative perspective, West European Politics, Volume 11, Issue 3 July 1988
- Sinclair, Keith (2 October 1989). "SNP pits Fairlie against Fairburn". The Glasgow Herald. p. 3. Retrieved 5 May 2019.
|Party political offices|
| Scottish National Party Vice Chairman (Policy)
| Senior Vice Chairman (Depute Leader) of the Scottish National Party